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Philippine Government, Muslim Rebels Agree to New Round of Peace Talks - 2004-02-21

The Philippine government and Muslim rebels have agreed to a new round of peace talks in April in a bid to end their long and bitter conflict.

Government negotiators and leaders of the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front, MILF, agreed to restart talks, stalled for more than a year.

The deal came at meetings in Malaysia, which has previously hosted negotiations between the two sides.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo issued a statement Saturday saying the parties had agreed to the deployment of an international cease-fire monitoring team and to support funding agencies in bankrolling development projects in the impoverished southern Muslim areas once a peace accord is signed.

An MILF spokesman says the key obstacle to resuming negotiations had been removed when government troops withdrew from a rebel stronghold on the southern island of Mindanao.

Tens of thousands of people have died in more than three decades of fighting as MILF rebels tried to establish an Islamic homeland in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country.